By Henrylito D. Tacio
“If we had no winter,” English poet Anne Bradstreet once said, “the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” In other words, “If there were no tribulations, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.” So said Saint John Chrysostom.
I visited the United States for the first time in December 2000. It was winter time in New York City and I never knew how cold the season was until I came out from the hotel where I was staying the morning after I arrived to have a walk at the nearby Central Park.
When I stepped out from the hotel, I immediately experienced the fangs of winter that penetrated the depth of my skin. (Until now, I run out of words to describe the coldness that I “suffered” that time.) I was only the usual clothing we wore in the Philippines and a jacket — and nothing more. I walked only a few steps. I couldn’t endure the too much cold so I had to return to the hotel – pronto!
The bellboy, who saw me coming out, was not surprised to see me going back. He knew that I couldn’t “survived” that long outside with only a thin jacket I used to wear during cold weather in the country. (Now, I know better!)
But I experienced the real kind of winter when I went to my sister Elena, who lived at that time in Hibbing, Minnesota. One early morning, I saw a lot of snow outside while sitting near the window pane. I went outside and literally slept in the snow. It was very, very cold, of course and after just one minute, I returned inside. My nephew, who saw what I just did, was totally surprised and exclaimed, “You must be crazy, uncle Henry.”
For the next three weeks, I stayed with the Chase family (my sister is married to Daniel Chase, an electrical engineer just like her). It was then I experienced riding a snowmobile for the first time in my life with my nephew. Every morning, I had to clean the garage pathway as snow trickled at night. Twice, I almost slipped when those nasty snows turned into clear ice sheets.
I could have done ice fishing (ever heard of it?) too had I accepted the invitation of Dan’s friend. Remember the Hollywood movie Two Grumpy Old Men? It was shot in Minnesota and both did their ice fishing near the place where my sister lived.
On Christmas Day, the Chase family and myself went to visit Dan’s mother. On our way, I could see the snow flakes falling from heaven. Literally and figuratively, I had my first white Christmas. The most famous and popular of all the Christmas songs written by Irving Berlin came into my mind: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten, and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.”
Another Christmas carol which uses winter on Christmas as its theme has this classic lines: “In the lane, snow is glistening. A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight. Walking in a winter wonderland.”
Perhaps the most popular song among Filipino children is James Lord Pierpont’s Jingle Bells. Now, please sing with me the most remembered lines: “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh. O’er the fields we go laughing all the way. Bells on bob tail ring, making spirits bright. What fun it is ride and sings a sleighing song tonight.”
Although there is no winter in the Philippines, the season is very popular here. The reason is obvious; Filipinos usually dream and want anything related to the United States. In addition, there are many films in which a winter setting plays an important role. The award-winning Fargo is an example. The film Requiem for a Dream concludes with “Act III: Winter,” in which the movie reaches its hellish and chilling climax.
Winter is one of the four seasons of temperate zones. It is the season with the shortest days and the lowest average temperatures. It has colder weather and, especially in the higher latitudes or altitudes, snow and ice. The usually coldest season of the year, winter occurs between autumn and spring and popularly considered to be constituted by December, January, and February.
A lot my friends asked me why I wouldn’t stay in the United States for good. My answer is that I could not tolerate too much cold. Winter is good — if only it lasts for just one week; after that, winter is already a pain. Poet Christina Giorgina Rossetti wrote: “Night is long and cold is strong in bleak December.”
Winter is good to look – in postcards. Most Filipinos dream of it! Actually, they don’t how bad the weather is during winter. William Bradford pointed this out: “And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms.”
Here’s how Georgics author Publius Vergilius Maro describes the final metaphor in a poem celebrating death: “Winter is farmer’s lazy time. In cold weather, the farmers enjoy their gain for the most part and they happily prepare feasts for each other. Friendly winter is inviting and lightens their cares, as when loaded boats at last reach port and the happy sailors place crowns upon the sterns.”
But to those who live in a place where winter is part of their lives, they should welcome the season with gladness. Pietro Aretino suggests, “Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.” John Boswell adds, “Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”
“There is privacy about it which no other season gives you,” said Ruth Stout. “In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.”
Patricia Hampl agrees: “The cold was our pride, the snow was our beauty. It fell and fell, lacing day and night together in a milky haze, making everything quieter as it fell, so that winter seemed to partake of religion in a way no other season did, hushed, solemn.”
Winter is the time when most of the people are inside their home. Traveling is not much fun; one kilometer becomes two kilometer. Winter, to some, is a respite. Edith Sitwell said it well: “Winter is the time for comfort – it is the time for home.”
Winter time is no time for gardening. Barbara Winkler argues, “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle: a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”
“May your days be merry and bright,” so goes the song again, “and may all your Christmases be white.” — ###